Germany has rejected US pressure to send warships to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf from seizure by Iran.
Olaf Scholz, the German vice-chancellor, publicly confirmed on Wednesday that his country would not take part in a US-led naval taskforce.
Mr Scholz, who is who is deputising for Angela Merkel while she is on holiday, warned of the danger of the world "sleepwalking into a much larger conflict".
“We want to talk about how to address the situation with our French and British partners in Europe, but there is no discussion of a mission as requested,” he said.
Calls for the joint taskforce have intensified following the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last month. The tanker remains in Iranian hands, with the commander of the British warship that is already accompanying UK-flagged ships on this route saying yesterday that Tehran appeared to be testing the Royal Navy’s resolve.
"The Iranians seem to be keen to test our resolve, test our reactions most of the time," William King, commander of the HMS Montrose, told the BBC, adding that over 27 days patrolling the region he had experienced 85 "interactions with Iranian forces".
Germany reportedly rejected calls to take part in the planned taskforce last week, but this is the first time the German government has commented publicly .
Mr Scholz said a naval taskforce would be “getting ahead of events”, and that Germany’s priority was to prevent an escalation in the Gulf.
“The worst thing would be a real military conflict. Then shipping would really be in jeopardy,” he said.
Mr Scholz, the leader of Angela Merkel’s main coalition partner, rejected suggestions the German government is divided over the US request. His centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD) have a track record of opposing German involvement in military operations abroad, while Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have been more open to the idea.
But in this case Mrs Merkel’s government is believed to be reluctant to back a naval taskforce for fear any incident could be used by hardliners in the Trump administration as a pretext for war with Iran.
Along with Britain and France, Germany has been keen to rescue the nuclear deal agreed with Iran by Barack Obama, which Mr Trump withdrew from last year.
Germany has come under intense pressure from the US over military spending in recent years amid President Trump’s attempts to make Nato’s European members pay more towards the cost of their defence.
Mr Trump has been highly critical of Europe’s biggest economy over its failure to meet Nato’s target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is widely seen as Mrs Merkel’s designated successor, recently pledged to meet the target when she took over as defence minister.
"We made a clear commitment to Nato’s two percent goal. I know that we can’t get there from one day to the next, but I’m just as clear on the fact that we must get there in the end," she said.
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